Winter Wreckin’ Hone in for the Holidays - The Fisherman

Winter Wreckin’ Hone in for the Holidays

December options along the Jersey Shore.

The 12th month of the year is Ol’ Man Winter’s turf. His bone chilling breath of air and skin numbing water temperatures can make armchair anglers wary to head out into the salt, and that’s a big mistake. 

Winter fishing can be a firestorm of action, anywhere from the backwaters to the inshore and offshore wrecks and rockpiles for a cooler filling junket. Here’s a good gauge on your options for warming up with a bent rod this winter.

 December is a hot month in the Garden State for party boat action targeting tasty wreck favorites like black sea bass and porgies.
December is a hot month in the Garden State for party boat action targeting tasty wreck favorites like black sea bass and porgies.

Northern Exposure

“Historically, wintertime fishing meant setting up in the Mud Hole for ling,” explained Captain Steve Spinelli of the Skylarker out of Belmar. ”We’ll definitely be looking for them in December and January as well as cod, though year to year both fisheries can be off or on.” Spinelli thinks in recent years that fishing seasons have shifted about a month, meaning a few more opportunities may be available in mid-winter. “Nowadays, we’ve seen blackfishing biting good through February when the chew would usually get quiet by end of January,” Spinelli said, adding “And now striped bass fishing runs through Christmas and even New Year’s. We were targeting bass in January last year.”  Many boats in the Shark River fleet will focus on stripers first in December using jigs such as Ava 47s Hammered Chrome jigs with red and green tails and dropping large Tsunami or Storm paddletail shads. “Mainly we’ll patrol the coast from Sandy Hook down past Manasquan Inlet, and even up into Raritan Bay in December. We had ‘em good last year Between the Channels.”

Winter flounder are named so for a reason, it’s just that we haven’t seen them in any real numbers in the last decade or so to actually make it a viable winter fishery, but that’s changing. “November we had a great flounder bite in Shark River,” said Bobby Matthews of the Fisherman’s Den in Belmar. “It was actually pretty easy for guys to score their limits from both boats and the bulkhead. Some fish were over the 3-pound mark too and I expect that bite to keep going strong into December if it’s been this hot already.” Matthews stated any given day the chew could switch better from bloodworms to fresh clam bits, and recommends to fish the outgoing tides during sunny days when the water temps really begin to plummet into December. Another trick is to keep your rigs moving on the ground, lightly twitching them or reeling them in slowly to cover more ground. The shop should have rental boats still in the water in December to target the snowshoes but you can fish from the tennis courts, floating dock and concrete pier if sans boat.

THE NJ MENU

BLACK SEA BASS – November 1 to December 31, 15 fish at 13-inch minimum size

BLACKFISH – November 16 to December 31st 5 fish bag limit, 15-inch minimum size. January 1 to February 28, 4 fish bag limit at 15-inch minimum size

LING – No closed season, no bag limit or minimum size

COD – No closed season, 21-inch minimum size, no bag limit

POLLOCK – No closed season, 19-inch minimum size, no bag limit

WHITE HAKE – No closed season or bag limit or minimum sizeS

TRIPED BASS – Ocean fishing open year round, 1 fish at 28 to less than 43 inches, 1 fish 43 inches or greater

WINTER FLOUNDER – Season closes December 31, 2 fish at 12-inch minimum size

Grand Central

If participation is low and nobody else is sailing along the coast, you can count on one boat that’s pounding the wrecks everyday out of the Point Pleasant area – the Dauntless with captains Butch Egerter, Steve Huey and Pat Murphy. I hopped on a trip in early November to pick their salty minds about winter wreck fishing and it’s all good. “Every day in the winter can be a varied mix,” said Egerter. “You name it, sea bass, porgies, ling, cod, pollock and blackfish are around. We hit them all and it all depends what you want to target to choose your rig.” Huey added, “Every day can be different but week to week we can get a good idea of what’s biting. Some days, the tog are biting best so we encourage to rig up with green or white legger crabs on 5/0 hooks for them; other days a mad ling or sea bass bite will be going on so we tell fares to drop to the bottom with 2/0 to 3/0 Octopus hooks then.”

Captain Murphy added even more saying, “A lot of guys will come to load up on the smaller stuff like sea bass, ling or porgies, then dedicate themselves to try and hang some cod or pollock. Those guys targeting the larger fish always seem to win the pool and start to jig with Berkeley 6-inch Gulps and Diamond jigs to put a decent 7- to 20-pound fish in the box, but it takes some willpower and dedication to sit through the little bites.” The Dauntless and other Manasquan area boats are usually working wintertime waters from 95 feet to 200 feet plying the Shark River Reef, the Farms, Mud Hole wrecks and 17 Fathoms during this time of year to find the congregating fish schools. 

When all other action may be slow on any particular day, sizable ling (and plenty of them) have been day savers through much of 2019.
When all other action may be slow on any particular day, sizable ling (and plenty of them) have been day savers through much of 2019.

Southern Living

“During December and January, everyone down off Cape May is looking for blackfish in 100 to 120 feet of water,” said Matt Slobodjian of Jim’s Bait and Tackle in Cape May. “Our local guys like Captain Tom Daffin of the Fishin Fever and Bob Cope of Full Ahead Sportfishing target the big bulldog tog that can top 20 pounds and even more, but generally you can find a solid 10 pounder or two any time you go out during the winter.” It was a Capt. Daffin charter of course that caught the New Jersey state record blackfish of 25.37 pounds just a few short years ago.

If the blackfish aren’t biting and you are still fishing during the open sea bass season in December, Slobo recommends heading out to the 30 to 40 mile wrecks to hit the humpbacks. “This November we saw an immense amount of porgies and big sea bass already out there. Guys were getting full boat limits of porgies in November and moving on to target sea bass after that. Those fish will be gradually moving outward to the 50 to 80 mile wrecks in January and February, but unfortunately, the season is closed then, so get on them in December on the midshore wrecks while you can.” Slobo also states that a bunch of white hake and some red hake will be in the mix at 20 to 30 mile spots like the Varanger and the Deepwater Reef.

Keep in mind too along the Atlantic and Cape May county coast down out of Delaware Bay, the striped bass bite in December has been fairly epic for those leaving boats in the water a bit longer, trailering or hopping aboard one of the charters listed in our report section that will be sailing through the winter for as long as the bite lasts.  The 2019 striper run seems to be running about a week behind as of early November, so that jigging, plugging and trolling action along the southern stretch should be pretty solid again heading into the New Year.  Keep those mojos, trolling plugs and spoons handy this month if you’re looking to push to the three-mile-line and back looking for marks. 

There’s more than enough action going on through the winter months to keep the coolers full and the good times rolling. Stay up to date with the latest reports at TheFisherman.com and set out for some heated fishing on the high seas this winter.

WINTER CHECKLIST

There is no substitution for success; it all comes down to the preparation. To be comfortable, gear-ready and fully stocked for winter onshore/offshore/wreck fishing, necessities in the bag include, but are not limited to:

Clothing
– Grundens skins/bibs
– Insulated boots
– Rain gear
– Neoprene felt gloves
– Wool hat
– Wool socks
– Polarized sunglasses
– Windbreaker
– Heavy hooded sweatshirt
– 3 to 4 layers of clothes in total, nothing too bulky
– Insulated boots
– Balaclava
– Knapsack

Provisions
– Plenty of food – chips, snacks, hoagies, beef jerky, venison jerky
– CoffeePlenty of water/Gatorade
– Small Igloo cooler for food, bottled water or soda, and late breakfast and mid-day meal
– Paper towels

Tackle/Gear/Intel
– GPS numbers/charts
– Contacts to whom might be out fishing (& cellphone)Stout 6-1/2 to 7-foot rod
– Size 4/0 high speed reel 65-pound braided line
– Assorted 12- to 20-ounce Crippled Herring, Viking, Atom, Diamond Jigs
– Assorted 3- to 8-inch curly-tail grubs in pink, red, green colors. Berkley Gulp Swimmin’ Mullet
– Assorted 16- to 20-ounce bank sinkers
– 100-pound barrel swivels50- to 80-pound leader material
– Size 3/0, 6/0 to 8/0 Octopus style hooks
– Size 5/0 to 7/0 Baitholder hooks
– Wide mouthed net and/or gaff
– Lighter to burn knots/lineHanging bucket for rail
– Extra braid and leader material
– First aid kit
– Dehooker and venting tool
– Cutting board
– A rag, knife, scissors, pliers tape measure & your favorite baits.

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